Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Square Deal at the Farmers Markets

photo by Nick Bastone
It can sometimes get frustrating while shopping at the local farmers market when  the items we want to purchase are a little too pricey for cash or add up to more cash than we have on hand--and the vendors can't take a credit or debit card. True enough, the merchant fees for the cards can be steep and some of the smaller guys just can't afford them. But, who wants to lose a sale because the customer didn't have enough cash? And, who wants to be the customer who really wants that beef brisket, bacon, and package of sausages but has to walk away because of a lack of ATM twenties?

So, it's been interesting to see a new card technology called Square showing up at the markets. A project of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Square launched last October, it's a combination mobile app and small white hardware device that plugs into the headphone jack of an iPhone, iPad, or Android. Vendors simply download the app, plug in the device, and then swipe debit or credit cards to have payments deposited directly into their bank accounts within 12 to 36 hours, depending on the bank.

photo courtesy of Square

The beauty of this is that there are no contracts or hidden fees for the vendors. It's a flat rate of 2.75 percent per transaction. If vendors enter credit cards manually, the fee is 3.5 percent plus 15 cents a transaction. Nick Bastone, who works for Square, also says that Square meets and exceeds all industry-standard security practices. Square's network and servers are housed in a secure facility monitored around the clock and the software uses industry-standard security best practices, including encryption of customer information. And, Bastone adds, unlike typical credit card processors, Square can track the location of a sale and send receipts via SMS or email. (Actually, I don't think that's quite right. At least two vendors I know using more traditional payment systems have asked me if I wanted my receipt emailed to me.)

Square already is being picked up locally. At the La Jolla farmers market, for instance, six vendors already are using it. And, people I spoke to at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturday told me that they had made purchases from vendors using Square.

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